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State finally sets out on BT cotton growing with free seeds to farmers

BUSINESS
By Awal Mohammed | November 7th 2020
Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives CS Peter Munya. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Growing of the genetically modified BT cotton has started in earnest as the Agriculture ministry rushes to resuscitate the sector.

Farmers in Eastern Kenya will receive 16.3 tonnes of seeds released yesterday by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya to be planted during the current short rains season.

Speaking during the flagging off, Mr Munya said the country is on the right trajectory to breathe life to the almost dead sub-sector.

“With commercial production of BT cotton, Kenya has the potential of joining the big textile league and improving the livelihoods for millions of people who are directly or indirectly involved in the value chain,” he said.

The adoption of Bacillus Thuringiensis cotton (BT) has been long overdue, with fieldwork research by the ministry having taken nearly five years.

Late last year, the Cabinet approved its commercial adoption after the field trials posted positive results.

Resist pests

The seeds have shown ability to resist the African bollworm - the single most destructive cotton pest, causing up to 100 per cent loss - bolstering farmers’ confidence that they will enjoy a full harvest.

Planting BT cotton also reduces the use of harmful insecticides leading to cleaner environment and improved farmer health, while also increasing yields per unit area due to reduced production costs.

Currently, Kenya produces an average 25,000 bales of cotton against a demand of 200,000 bales annually, from small-scale farmers in the Western, Nyanza, Central, Rift Valley, Eastern and Coast regions.

Munya is confident the country will bridge the deficit before 2022.

“Today marks our first step in commercial production of BT cotton. We are confident that we can progressively enhance our production to reach 200,000 bales by 2022,” he said.

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In the late 1970s and 80s, the government fully invested in the cotton industry through the Cotton Board of Kenya, which had an organised marketing system that saw farmers paid on time.

But the industry fell into decline due to several challenges including weak farmer organisations, high cost of production, inadequate quality inputs and over-reliance on rain-fed production, which made farmers neglect the crop.

In May this year, the Agriculture CS formed a national task force for revitalisation of cotton and pyrethrum to guide them back to profitability.

The task force called for formation of a body to specifically deal with the sector.

“We have commenced the process of presenting a Bill for establishment of an institution that will specifically regulate the fibre crops sub-sector with a view to ensuring requisite attention and investment,” said Munya.

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